March 1, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Marneshia Richard examined her situation from every angle.
On one hand, the senior point guard was anxious because she knew she could return and help the Mississippi State women''s basketball team.
On the other, every step Richard took caused her to think what if her knee wasn''t ready and that all the hard work she had invested in returning to the lineup would be in vain.
So while her classmates were honored Thursday in a Senior Night ceremony before Mississippi State''s game against South Carolina, Richard stood in street clothes with the rest of her teammates, thinking about what could have been and what she still needs to do to get back to 100 percent.
Despite the conflicting emotions, Richard recently decided not to try to return this season and to take a medical redshirt. Her choice means she will return for a fifth season in 2009-10 to bolster an already experienced backcourt on a team that could challenge for a Southeastern Conference title.
Those expectations will have to wait, though. At 2 p.m. today, Mississippi State (20-8, 7-6 SEC) plays at Alabama in its regular-season finale. A victory against the Lady Crimson Tide (13-15, 1-12) will help the Lady Bulldogs secure the No. 6 seed for next week''s SEC tournament in North Little Rock, Ark.
Richard will be in Tuscaloosa, Ala., today and at the SEC tournament. She has been with the Lady Bulldogs nearly the entire season as they have reached the 20-win plateau for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
Mississippi State advanced to the NCAA tournament that season.
Richard had hoped she would be healthy enough after offseason surgery to repair a micro-fracture to her femur. She had planned to re-join the team for the push to the NCAAs. But her knee didn''t cooperate and started to swell after she returned to workouts.
"I didn''t want to go if my knee wasn''t strong and ready because I would be prone to injuries," Richard said. "I thought about every angle, but it wasn''t strong enough to get back and to compete against SEC teams when the competition is raised and there is so much more energy."
Richard''s dilemma has affected the Lady Bulldogs in a host of ways.
Her absence has forced junior Alexis Rack, junior college transfer Armelie Lumanu, and freshman Diamber Johnson to play more minutes at point guard.
Rack, the team''s leading scorer (14.5 points per game) and leading 3-point shooter (77 of 246), and Lumanu (11.3 ppg.) both have more assists than turnovers.
Johnson has averaged more minutes (13.7 per game), has 37 assists to 16 turnovers, and has provided a spark off the bench.
But the Lady Bulldogs have more turnovers than assists (433-423), so it is only natural to speculate how the presence of another experienced guard -- particularly one who is considered more of a true point guard -- could have helped the team on the court this season.
Richard has had those thoughts, too. She worked hard through rehabilitation and appeared to be on schedule when she was cleared to return to the court after Christmas.
The plan at the start of the season was for Richard to return to action for the start of SEC play in January. By then, Richard was working with the team, albeit not at 100 percent, when she discovered her knee wasn''t ready.
"It was depressing and there was relief at the same time," Richard said. "I was relieved that all of the pressure was off and that I didn''t have to try to work 110 percent to come back , but I was depressed because I wanted to be out there to help the team.
"Day by day I feel more comfortable, and I can tell from a month ago that my knee is progressing. It is getting stronger. I can feel it getting stronger. I do a little bit more every day, and I am happy with the progress."
The 5-foot-8 guard from Lamar averaged 9.8 ppg and had 138 assists and 104 turnovers last season. She shot 38.8 percent from the field and averaged 33.8 minutes a game.
Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning knows Richard agonized about her decision and did everything she could to put herself in position to return.
As difficult as the decision to redshirt was, though, Fanning said Richard made the right choice. Now she will have an offseason to blend in with her teammates on the court and will be able to ensure she is back to full speed for the start of next season.
"I think it was in her mind all along, but as she got back in late December and early January and saw her knee was still going to swell she became a little more skeptical about it," Fanning said. "We tried to give it another month, but she wasn''t able to cut, really, until she got into February. Now she is able to go full court with us, not for an entire practice, but for enough that she is getting her game back."
Richard will continue to work with the scout team for the remainder of the season. She said her knee is at 65 to 70 percent strength. While she has pushed her teammates in practice, Richard, who will receive her bachelor''s degree in May, will continue to be the Lady Bulldogs'' biggest cheerleader from the bench.
"I am glad everybody has stepped up and matured," said Richard, who will return to school next season as a graduate student. "The team has had a great season and I am really proud of them. It has been hard sitting and watching them, but it has not been hard watching them succeed. I have really enjoyed watching them grow and mature."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.